Afraid of the Gospel (8)
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This article was written by Rev. John Heys in the December 15, 1953 issue of the Standard Bearer.
These go hand in hand. Hand in hand they must go. For conditional theology wants us to believe that there are works of men that precede the works of God and for which God waits, either before saving us or before he can and will give us the next installment of salvation. We must believe, so the particular phase of conditional theology which was smuggled into the Protestant Reformed churches declares, before the promise of God to save us will go into effect. God promises salvation to everyone who hears the gospel on the condition that they believe. They must, then, first believe, and then the promise is for them. Before that it is not for them. And so, this particular brand of conditional theology maintains, it is also for man after he has been brought by God into the kingdom by his act of believing. Then his receiving and enjoying of the blessings of that kingdom still depend upon his doing something before God will give the next installment. He must convert himself before God will send to him that blessing of the kingdom, namely, the joyful experience of being in it, the comfort, the peace of mind of being a citizen of it. Man’s work is prerequisite to God’s work! Let them not say that they do not mean that! Let them rather convert themselves and become like little children and confess that the word prerequisite does not fit in Reformed theology when we are speaking of the good works to which God calls us.
But taking the stand and maintaining it as they do that God promises conditionally and that something is required of us before we enter into the kingdom either initially or daily in our consciousness, their sermons must become Christless. He who is the prerequisite demanded and supplied by God without any of our work must be relegated to the background and presently in the line of generations of this philosophy be lost as the complete Savior that he is.
But I hear voices raised in protest! We do not say that man’s work precedes the work of God. We say that there are conditions that man fulfills by God’s grace. That surely is putting God’s work first! We say that without the grace of God man can never fulfill these conditions. We do preach Christ. We preach Christ crucified. And we also preach predestination unto adoption, as Paul speaks of it in Ephesians 1:5.
If you say that in all sincerity—and we believe that there are a few who might be able to say that—then you are a poor deluded, deceived soul who has not yet seen the inconsistency of such a philosophy. Shall we try it out once? Listen! God promises every one of you that if by his grace you believe, you will be saved! That is not the way Rev. De Wolf said it. He left that “by his grace” out. And in doing so he left Christ out. It was in that respect already a Christless sermon. But look at the statement as it now stands. God is going to give you grace in order to believe. He is going to give that to you so that you can fulfill the condition which is necessary for your salvation. You say that he will have to give it to us before we can believe. You say that you believe that unless he does give that grace you cannot perform the act of faith. Fine! So far we agree. And we seem to have the same doctrine. For thus far we have not yet that miserable conditional theology. But look again! Christ must give me grace before I can perform the act of faith which is a prerequisite, a condition to salvation! But what nonsense we have then! Is it not so very, very plain that the moment God gives me that grace to believe he has already given me salvation? He has given me Christ, when he gave me grace to believe. And can I have Christ and not salvation? Can I receive grace outside of Christ?
But you say that the grace to believe and the act of believing are simultaneous. Chronologically, that is as far as the time element is concerned, that may very well be. Logically that is not so. But even then, even if the grace to believe and the act of believing occur at the same moment of time, then it is also true that our salvation occurs at that same moment of time and our act of believing is not first, is not the condition to our being saved. Our act of believing is part of that salvation. Our act of believing is Christ working in and through our hearts and minds. That is not Christless preaching, that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ in and through us as well as for us!
Let us look at that second statement also. Let us put it this way: Our act of conversion is a prerequisite (which we by God’s grace fulfill) to entering the kingdom. Once again, even when you say that this refers to those already in the kingdom and refers to their consciousness and conscious enjoyment of the blessedness of being in the kingdom, the addition of that phrase “which we by God’s grace fulfill” makes the whole thing meaningless. Had Rev. De Wolf said, or even corrected it after his attention was called to it repeatedly, instead of maintaining it in its literal form: “Our act of conversion is a requirement which we by God’s grace fulfill to enter the kingdom” he would at least have had Christ there in the word “grace.” But he did not, and by his maintenance of the literal form he excludes Christ. And the result is Christless preaching. It would change the whole idea of his statement to add the suggested phrase. It would surely demand the withdrawal of the “pre,” the “before” idea in his statement. But when you try to straighten it out without withdrawing that obnoxious, heretical prerequisite element and by adding “which we fulfill by God’s grace,” you make it ridiculous. You put a prerequisite to a prerequisite. You make God’s grace prerequisite to our act of conversion. That is fine! And there we again agree. But do not make God’s grace a prerequisite to a prerequisite that man must fulfill. You become confused by such theology. The minute you add “which we by God’s grace fulfill” you put God’s work ahead of that act of conversion and automatically take the “pre” from the prerequisite. God grant that the erring brethren would still receive courage to do that! Put God first not man!
We had more to say about this relegating of Christ, the word of God become flesh to the background in the preaching of the word, but it can wait till later.
Let us pause and plead with Rev. De Wolf even now after all the sad history that has transpired since he refused to retract his unbiblical statements. We would urge him in the love of God and in the love of the truth to use this department and tell us that he will no longer maintain those statements in their literal form.
It is not too late to do that! And all truly Protestant Reformed people would love him for it and thank God for it. There still is room for him in the Protestant Reformed Churches without his statements. And he would find out, too, that if he condemned those statements and would cast them from him, those who love the truth would not gloat over his having been humiliated into an acknowledgement of error, but that they would receive him as a brother to whom our gracious God has in his mercy given an exceeding great measure of spiritual strength. How could they gloat over his being humiliated. It is not humiliating to confess sin and error, it is a sign of spiritual strength. Confessing error is not weakness. Maintaining error is weakness.
Incidentally, he need not be concerned about the feelings and attitude of those who protested against these statements which he made. The idea never was, as some—who ought to know better—so naively put it, that he must make a “conciliatory apology” to these men. It was not their feelings that were hurt. It was not that they or Classis East felt personally offended by those statements. The offense in them is that they are an insult to God! They relegate him to the background! They put man before him! That is why Classis East said that they must be condemned. Rev. De Wolf, take away those insults to God! If you love God—and we do not want to believe that you do not—then fight with us against such statements which deny that he is God!
You have erred. Nothing strange about that. We all do. John says that “if we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar.” Nothing strange for a man in an important office such as you occupied in what we call the “mother Church” of our denomination. Men in higher positions erred. David did! Peter had to be rebuked to his face by Paul because of a grievous error! But the strength of these men was not that they maintained themselves in their errors. Their spiritual strength was in this that they broke away from their errors. May God grant you that spiritual strength and courage!
We were told that you preached a Protestant Reformed sermon on “Predestination Unto Adoption” based on Ephesians 1:5. Give us all the benefit of that sermon. Use this department and on its pages hold that wonderful truth before our eyes, and show us that because of this wonderful truth, which does not relegate God and his Christ to the background, those statements of yours cannot stand, and that you are convinced now that they must be condemned as elevating man to a position where he may not and cannot stand.
Do that in his fear.
In his fear you will have no fear of what men may say and do. In his fear you will have joy and peace. In his fear you can, by God’s grace, perform a great work, a blessed work. You can lead many erring sheep back to the fold of Christ and bring peace and joy to many confused minds.
The word of God is uncompromisingly distinct. And the distinguishing marks of the true church, also according to Art. 29 of the Belgic Confession, show an exceedingly distinct church. In the fear of him who is himself a distinct God, lead his people back from a movement that seeks to cut off the sharp corners of his antithesis. He is a light and in him is no shadow of turning. And he says, “Be ye holy even as I am holy.” THAT IS A VERY DISTINCT CHURCH! And your text of Ephesians 1:5 preaches a very distinct truth and a distinct church.
Be not afraid to do things in his fear.